FBI: Violent crime rose in first 6 months of '15

Posted at 4:09 PM, Jan 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-19 16:09:37-05

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Violent crime rose across the country in the first six months of 2015 compared to the same period the year before, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the FBI.

The statistics show a 1.7 percent jump in the overall number of violent crimes reported by local law enforcement, with increases in murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The FBI said violent crime rose most dramatically, at 5.3 percent, in cities with populations between 250,000 and 499,999.

Burglary and property crimes, however, dropped in the first six months of last year, as did arson offenses, the FBI said.

The statistics provide some support for assertions, voiced in the last few months by local and federal law enforcement officials, of a crime spike in 2015. But the snapshot is widely understood to be incomplete since the data from local law enforcement is reported to the FBI voluntarily, and not all agencies participate.

Crime in the United States drew public attention last year as many major American cities reported increases in the number of homicides in their communities. The FBI statistics, pulled from 12,879 local law enforcement agencies nationwide, show a 6.2 percent jump in murders from January to June 2015.

"While the overall violent crime rates remain historically low, and it is too early to draw any long-term conclusions, the Justice Department is acutely focused on the increases being experienced in some communities of the country," Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said in a statement.

The department is planning next month to convene representatives from U.S. attorneys' offices for training on anti-violence strategies. Last fall, it hosted a crime-fighting summit for mayors and local law enforcement officials.

Police officials have struggled to pinpoint specific reasons for the homicide increase, and the FBI release does not offer possible explanations.

Many criminal justice experts have cautioned against making too much of the increase given that the totals are far below where they were some 20 years ago, and have noted that after years of drops, the numbers could not be expected to keep going down.

FBI Director James Comey in October raised the possibility that officers, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri shooting, had turned to less proactive tactics for fear of being captured on viral videos and attracting public condemnation. But the White House distanced itself from that idea.